Serotonin Boost – How Exercise Helps with Happines...

Serotonin Boost – How Exercise Helps with Happiness

Gaining insight into our body’s chemistry gives us more tools to be skilled architects of our own happiness.

Depression is a common mood disorder that can affect many of us across a broad spectrum of ways. Exercise is known to not only protect us from depression but it has been shown also to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Miracles of chemical reactions occur in our bodies all the time, and with exercise, we can affect how these miracles happen. The hormone and neurotransmitter serotonin is essential in these chemical reactions.

While we don’t have to be neuroscientists to understand how exercise helps depression, gaining insight into how these systems work can support our commitment to our movement practices. It’s a great reminder that we have some control over how we feel!

This article applies to significant depression, one of two types of depression. The other is categorized as bipolar depression. I had been affected by major depression in my 20s and 30s and have since learned a lot about how to keep my moods consistent and elevated. I didn’t want to stay depressed. Serotonin is only one of the components that affect this complicated mood disorder. Stay away from self-diagnosing and see a physician if you think you might be depressed.

Scientific studies have shown that low serotonin levels can lead to feelings of instability, sadness, and depression. Higher, healthy serotonin levels lead to elevated moods, happiness, feelings of contentment, safety, and well-being.

Our vagus nerve is connected to the chemical tracks of serotonin. 95% of our serotonin is processed in our digestive system. Studies have shown that maintaining a healthy vagal tone via the energetic stimulations of exercise not only combats stress but also optimizes digestion. This could be a huge reason why we feel so good at the end of a Pilates session. We’ve worked out our whole body inside and out; stomach massages, anyone?

Our vagus nerve is also tied to dopamine and norepinephrine, hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin that also determine moods. Dopamine contributes to senses of pleasure, movement, motivation, and feelings of reward. Low levels of dopamine lead to feelings of apathy or helplessness. Healthy levels of norepinephrine contribute to arousal, attention, and cognitive function. When we exercise and enjoy it, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine increase to levels that yield elevated moods, keeping depression at bay.

Serotonin is also sourced from the nutrient tryptophan. It’s an amino acid found in many of the proteins in our diet. It can either convert to serotonin or a neurotoxin. When our tryptophan levels are low and converted into neurotoxins, our moods decline, and some of us can experience anxiety and even aggressiveness. Exercise, through activating muscles with rhythmic resistance, keeps tryptophan in our muscles and prevents it from becoming a neurotoxin. Instead, the amino acid stays on the path of conversion to serotonin.

Many of us have heard of pharmaceuticals taken for depression that affect serotonin levels. I was reluctantly on one of these for a while. At the time, I knew something was better for me and focused on how I could create my own natural anti-depressant. Over time, an informed and disciplined lifestyle helped me realize my potential to feel better and overcome depression. This is possible for many others who wish to do the same!

Exercise to build serotonin levels is one way to protect ourselves against depression. Other protective mechanisms include proper rest, sleep, nutrition, and stress management. In this sense, miracles are available to us all of the time. We have to believe in our ability to create them and, in turn, be the architects of our own happiness.

Check out the video below to get a boost of serotonin yourself:

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Regina is a Pilates instructor, Chopra meditation teacher and NASM Nutrition Coach who lives through the lens of yoga. You can catch her online Pilates Bliss series on the reformer and mat on Pilates Anytime ( Her eight certifications point to a single purpose: that everything is connected. The way we think, the way we move, the way we rest, and the way we nourish ourselves, all contribute to the quality of our lives. She coaches clients to connect to their literal and spiritual core, to move from it, to understand it as their true essence. She works with her clients to strengthen these connections and ultimately harness their personal power to find fulfillment, resilience, and balance. A.C.C., NASM, Pilates Technique, Chopra and Yoga Tune Up® Certified IG: @wellbeingwithreg



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